Hooked, line and sinker

Big-game fish­ing off Canada’s Prince Ed­ward Is­land reels in the world’s most ded­i­cated an­glers

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FISH­ING chat along Prince Ed­ward Is­land’s north coast mostly con­cerns ‘‘ big blue’’, the At­lantic bluefin tuna.

It’s one of the supreme tro­phies of game fish­ing and they don’t come any big­ger than the gi­ant bluefin found in the deep wa­ters of the Gulf of St Lawrence. The tiny har­bour of North Lake at the is­land’s eastern tip has earned its ti­tle of ‘‘tuna cap­i­tal of the world’’ by virtue of be­ing one of the few places you can land a gi­ant bluefin weigh­ing more than 1000 pounds (450kg). And an­glers on the is­land might hook such huge bluefin on a day char­ter close to shore.

Any tuna talk in­evitably in­cludes men­tion of the long­stand­ing world record catch on rod and reel, a 1496lb ( 678kg) mon­ster landed by Ken Fraser in 1979. And there’s the peren­nial hope of catch­ing an even big­ger fish, the one that got away . . .

‘ ‘ In Septem­ber 2011,’’ writes North Lake fish­er­man Cor Keus in his log, ‘‘aboard our char­ter boat the North Lake Breeze, while on a fish­ing char­ter from Cal­i­for­nia, [we] caught and re­leased a gi­ant bluefin tuna that was 133 inches (338cm) long, with a girth of a full 100 inches and an es­ti­mated weight of 1662 pounds. This gi­ant fish is still swim­ming free, wait­ing to be caught by you and claimed as a new world record.’’

That’s the ir­re­sistible chal­lenge lur­ing sports fish­er­men from across the world who are will­ing to pay $C1000 ($948) a day to cast their lines off Canada’s small­est prov­ince. The height of the tuna sea­son is July to Oc­to­ber and there are now 22 char­ter out­fits oper­at­ing from a dozen north shore har­bours, tak­ing clients into the gulf and the Northum­ber­land Strait be­tween Prince Ed­ward Is­land and Nova Sco­tia.

It wasn’t al­ways thus. Lo­cal fish­er­men used to con­sider bluefin tuna a pest, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal his­to­rian Wal­ter Bruce, a pi­o­neer of the north coast char­ter fish­ery.

‘‘The first tuna landed in North Lake Har­bour was in 1967,’’ he says. ‘‘At that time bluefin tuna were called horse mack­erel by the lo­cals and were thought to be a nui­sance fish as there was no mar­ket for them and they tore holes in Break­fast: Charlottetown Farm­ers Mar­ket (9am-2pm Satur­day, and Wed­nes­day in sum­mer) is a great place to rub shoul­ders with is­lan­ders and in­dulge in lo­cal or in­ter­na­tional dishes for break­fast or lunch. More: char­lot­te­town­farm­ers­mar­ket.wee­bly.com. Treat: The lo­cal Cows ice cream is made ac­cord­ing to a se­cret recipe ‘‘dat­ing back to the time of Anne of Green Gables’’. The dairy treat has been rated Canada’s best in a Reader’s Di­gest sur­vey and world’s fish­er­men’s nets. Back then when we first landed tuna we paid some­one $10 to bury the fish af­ter the tro­phy pic­tures were taken.’’

The At­lantic bluefin tuna ( Thun­nus thyn­nus) can put up an in­cred­i­ble fight. ‘‘It might take 10 min­utes to land the tuna, or it’s taken us up­wards of 101/ hours,’’

2 best by tour op­er­a­tor Tauck. There are 32 flavours, in­clud­ing Calfe Latte, Gooey Mooey and Wowie Cowie. Stores at Peake’s Wharf , Queen Street and Cavendish. More: cows.ca.

Fine din­ing:

At the ur­bane Lot 30 says cap­tain Bruce Keus of North Lake Char­ters. The sport’s been de­scribed as ‘‘90 per cent prepa­ra­tion, 9 per cent dis­ap­point­ment and 1 per cent suc­cess’’.

Bluefin tuna fish­ing is tightly reg­u­lated, with strict re­gional quo­tas gov­ern­ing the an­nual per­mit­ted ton­nage. Bluefins caught in Charlottetown, owner-chef Gor­don Bai­ley salutes lo­cal pro­duce with his five-course sea­sonal de­gus­ta­tion menus fea­tur­ing oys­ters, mus­sels, scal­lops and lob­ster, plus is­land pork, lamb and beef. More: lot30restau­rant.ca. off Prince Ed­ward Is­land are so heavy they soon ex­haust the ter­ri­tory’s com­mer­cial al­lo­ca­tion.

‘ ‘ Oc­ca­sion­ally, but rarely, there’s a lucky draw for a sec­ond tag. Most clients want­ing to ac­tu­ally land a tuna and get their pic­ture be­side it will re­quest or book this years in ad­vance,’’ says Keus. Ar­ti­san dis­tillery: Julie Shore puts a whole new spin on the hum­ble mashed tu­ber with a sig­na­ture potato vodka from her small Her­manville dis­tillery in the north­east. She also dis­tils wild blue­berry vodka, rum and a su­perb gin. More: princeed­ward­dis­tillery.com. Brew­ery: The is­land’s only brew­ery is the Ga­han House Pub & Brew­ery in Charlottetown. Seven beers brewed in the base­ment in­clude Is­land Red Am­ber Ale, Sydney Street Stout and Iron Horse Brown Ale. A beer-tasting tray is of­fered in the pub above. More: ga­han.ca.

Recre­ational fish­ing is catc­hand-re­lease. The thrill is the bat­tle to tire the tuna enough to reel it in. It can’t be taken, so tro­phy pho­tos are quickly snapped over the side of the boat. Bar­b­less circle hooks help min­imise dam­age to the fish and the num­ber of hook-ups a day on each boat is reg­u­lated.

‘‘The rules this year say a max­i­mum of four per day,’’ says cap­tain Jamie Bruce, of Bruce Broth­ers Fish­ing Char­ters. ‘‘Since we ad­ver­tise half-day trips, we can re­lease one in the morn­ing and one in the af­ter­noon, with the al­lowance of one lost fish each trip.’’

More gen­tle fish­ing ad­ven­tures in­clude three-hour trips in search of mack­erel, cod, her­ring and other ed­i­ble sur­prises that may pop up from the deep. Any small fish caught dur­ing a deep- sea mack­erel jig­ging char­ter can be fil­leted, bagged and eaten on shore.

But there’s re­ally no need to go off­shore for a lo­cal seafood se­duc­tion. The ‘‘Gen­tle Is­land’’ of the travel brochures, with its un­du­lat­ing fer­tile pas­tures, sandy shore­lines, red cliffs and pic­turesque clap­board light­houses, has won a gourmet rep­u­ta­tion and shell­fish is the No 1 at­trac­tion.

Lob­ster is syn­ony­mous with lo­cal tourism, only slightly less iconic than Anne of Green Gables, but, like the tuna, was not al­ways loved. ‘ ‘ Don’t talk to me about lob­ster,’’ growls a wiry old salt nurs­ing his Iron Horse brown ale in a Charlottetown pub. ‘‘When we were kids, Mum packed us off to school with lob­ster sand­wiches. I mean, like ev­ery day of the week. How the richer kids scorned us. Lob­ster was food for poor folks.’’

Din­ers to­day hand over $C30 to $C65 for a slap-up lob­ster feast. At New Glas­gow Sup­pers, lob­sters are priced ac­cord­ing to size and meals in­clude all- you- can- eat mus­sels, chow­der, salad and bread rolls. Large bibs are es­sen­tial. It’s a sim­i­larly sump­tu­ous af­fair at the Lob­ster on the Wharf in Charlottetown and Fish­er­man’s Wharf in North Rus­tico.

All lo­cal oys­ters are malpe­ques ( Cras­sostrea vir­ginica) but this doesn’t stymie end­less de­bate over the virtues of Rasp­berry Point oys­ters ver­sus Johnny Flynn’s from Colville Bay or how these stack up against Cooke’s Cove or Os­prey Point. Re­gard­less of prove­nance, a dozen tangy, creamy malpe­ques sure hit the spot, as do the sweet and ten­der blue mus­sels, a vi­tal com­po­nent of the bur­geon­ing lo­cal aqua­cul­ture in­dus­try, which pro­duces about 80 per cent of Canada’s mus­sels.

Four culi­nary tour­ing routes — the North Cape Coastal Drive, Green Gables Shore, Red Sands Shore and Points East Coastal Drive — of­fer the chance to taste top-qual­ity veg­eta­bles, fresh berries and fruits, prime is­land beef and poul­try. The sea­sonal choice in seafood in­cludes arc­tic char, mack­erel, hal­ibut and floun­der, oys­ters, mus­sels, hard, soft and bar clams, sea urchin, rock and snow crabs, eel and peri­win­kles. There’s also fresh river trout and salmon.

A $C65 five-course de­gus­ta­tion at Lot 30 Res­tau­rant on Charlottetown’s Kent Street show­cases the the bounty. Gor­don Bai­ley cham­pi­ons lo­cal pro­duce and tweaks his menu daily ac­cord­ing to avail­abil­ity. The pan-seared scal­lops in car­rot but­ter are heav­enly; a baked arc­tic char comes stuffed with leeks, en­dive and spinach; and an or­ganic pork duo, seared and bar­be­cued, is a re­minder this lovely is­land has as much to in­spire off the land as from the ocean.

Two lux­u­ri­ous B&Bs, the Inn at Bay For­tune and the Inn at St Peters, also of­fer fine din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. Pop­u­lar, more af­ford­able seafood restau­rants in­clude Richard’s Seafood at Cove­head Har­bour, Carr’s Shell­fish in New Lon­don, the Blue Mus­sel Cafe in North Rus­tico and Wa­ter-Prince Cor­ner Shop and Lob­ster Pound in Charlottetown.

At Max­ine De­laney’s charm­ing coun­try res­tau­rant The Pearl in North Rus­tico, mean­while, I am served a steak grilled to per­fec­tion by chef An­drew Mil­lar, a grad­u­ate of the Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Canada in Charlottetown.

Is­land-bred beef ten­der­loin is served with lo­cal pota­toes and veg­eta­bles, and there are berries for dessert. It’s a fine ex­am­ple of lo­ca­vore din­ing.

Tro­phy pho­tos are of­ten snapped over the side of the boat as recre­ational fish­ing is catch-and-re­lease


Bring­ing the catch ashore

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